“For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the Lord, your Redeemer. — Isaiah 54:7-8
This past year has been an extremely difficult one. Between the pandemic, the political turmoil, and social unrest it appears that there are powers at work seeking to uproot and shatter our lives. However, there is no power greater than God. These things have happened because God has either allowed them to happen or he has ordained them. But this begs the question, “Why would a loving God allow such tragic events to take place?”
The prophet Isaiah said, “‘For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,’ says the Lord, your Redeemer.” But again, why would a loving God ever desert his people? In Psalm 81, the psalmist quotes God saying, “My people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels. Oh, that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways!” God is calling! “Oh, that my people would listen to me!”
Saint Paul reminds us in his epistle to the Romans (15:4) that “whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction.” What instruction is God giving us through His Word, and through these contemporary events? He is calling, but what is He saying? Throughout the Old Testament, and through the history of the Church, we see a clear pattern in the relationship between God and his people. For example, when God’s people refused to listen to Him after their deliverance from Egypt, He allowed them to wander in the wilderness for forty years. Later, when His people abandoned true worship, and sought after false gods, He allowed Babylon to overthrow Jerusalem and to destroy the temple. He cast His people into exile for 70 years, making them slaves to a foreign power. And throughout the history of the church, we see evidence of God breaking down our manmade institutions, and repeatedly rebuilding the church in His image.
God loves His people, and He wants a close, deep, intimate, personal relationship with us. “His steadfast love endures forever!” When we stray from His Way, and walk in the ways of the world, the flesh, or the devil, in His love He breaks us, so that He can remake us in His image. And when we turn to Him, He will have compassion and draw us back into that living relationship with His Son. Again, Isaiah the prophet says that when God’s people follow in his way, “He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the Earth, for the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 25:8).
The things that have happened over this past year, and the things that we are walking through right now, are for our good. God is dismantling the Church as we know it. If we are honest, we can admit that we have become complacent, divisive, and self-sufficient. We have abandoned His ways for the ways of the world. The pattern that we see in the Scriptures and Church history are being repeated in our day. God is taking away the things of this world in which we have trusted, and He is calling us back into relationship with Him. He is rebuilding His Church in His image.
After the destruction of the Temple, and the Exile in Babylon in the sixth century BC, the Lord inspired Nehemiah to seek to rebuild Jerusalem and the Lord’s Temple. The prophets who were active in that time made it clear to the returning exiles that the primary focus of their work was to be the rebuilding of the Temple. The exiles, upon their return, had started rebuilding the walls of the city, but met with stiff opposition from without and within the city. Ezra the priest and the prophets Haggai and Zechariah called the people to repent and restore the Temple first, putting God at the center of their lives and work. The walls of the Temple must first be rebuilt! What instruction can we discern from this for our present situation? What are the walls in our day that need to be rebuilt? What will those walls look like? And of what material will they be made? What are God’s instructions for us in rebuilding the walls of His Church?
In these Lenten Meditations, let us walk through the Scriptures together, knowing that “whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction.” God has done a dismantling. If we will listen to Him, and walk with Him through these difficult days, He will guide us in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, the walls of the Temple—His Church—that we may be remade in His image.